Emerge in Wilder Bowl for Free Performance
Dancers With Japanese Roots and Worldly Souls
by Julie Johnson
who walked through Wilder Bowl between 5 and 7 p.m. last Monday,
November 4, had to have seen Emerging Arts guest artists Eiko and
Komas portable theater. The glowing reds and whites may have
first attracted passers by, but the white-painted essence of the
bodies in slow motion are what held peoples attention.
The performance began near sundown, and as the light disappeared,
the lights in the van appeared to grow brighter and warmer, but
in contrast the temperature was dropping fast. Their movements were
almost painfully slow and rugged, though with a primal grace. On
the one hand you can say we are very slow, but you can see how time
has changed from 5:30 to 6:30, Eiko said. As the performers
breaths began to show, it became clear that though the audience
standing in Wilder Bowl might be cold, the slow movements of the
performers were hardly enough to fend off the cold.
Eiko and Komas performance was beautiful due to the
presence it quietly unleashed on Wilder Bowl, senior Raphael
Martin said, It was so nice to be able to observe a version
of a Japanese art form in the silence and cold of an Oberlin November
night. The white-painted bodies slowly moving in their cocoon-like
canopy was spectral.
van the two transformed into a portable theater had double doors
on all four sides, creating the sense that the van was a snow globe.
The interior was layered with strips of cloths in either icy blue-greens
or deep reds-oranges that created the effect of hills and valleys
along the floor and hung from the ceiling. Eiko, clothed in blue-green
rags, hovered in the warm layers of cloths, while Koma in reds hovered
in the blue-green valleys. The set broke the elements in two
the hot fire, magma and bloods juxtaposed next to the cool ice and
and Koma left Japan in 1972, and showed up in New York from Germany
in 1976 with no recognition and little funds. They had to support
themselves by driving taxis and waitressing while taking any opportunity
they could to perform. We performed anywhere and everywhere
lunch breaks, in libraries, on street corners, Eiko said.
Word moves fast, and Eiko said they could support themselves solely
with their art by the early 1980s, performing at venues like the
BAM and Old Joyce.
While recognition has its benefits, the two couldnt drop their
vagabond artist roots. We kind of missed being funky,
Eiko said. In addition to booked theater events, they make an effort
to perform free public performances as well. When performing in
public, There is no responsibility to the audience because
perspective and timing is too variable, Eiko said. She described
public performances as more of an outreach for the sake of an event,
rather than art for arts sake.
and Komas form of dance has striking correlations to Japanese
styles of theater. The measured movements and mask-like white painted
faces and the carefully crafted aesthetic atmosphere of the piece
reached back to Noh Theaters emphasis on refined artistry.
Their performance seemed to embody Butoh theaters concept
of the empty body, the practice of giving the body to
be moved, rather than a directed sense of self-expression. Eiko
and Komas performance was driven by their bodies, by the natural
flow created by the undulations in the stage and repetition of the
song for most of the two hours.
Eiko and Koma have consciously distanced themselves from the genre
of the Butoh school of dance. We studied under a Butoh master
for a few months, but we were bad students. We dont
call ourselves Butoh because we didnt complete study under
the master, Eiko said. There is a strong tradition in Japanese
culture between master and student, and it can be difficult to be
part of a genre without connection to the hierarchical structure.
Eiko and Koma were invited to Oberlin as part of the Emerging Arts
program. It seems Eiko and Koma have done well without connecting
themselves with any specific genre, and have surely etched out their